This is a tough post for me to write, but I'm going to write it because it should serve as an example. Let me first give you a little history. Picture it (kudos to anyone who got that intro)… I wasn't always known as Sugarrae online… I switched to the nickname in March of 2005 and bought the domain.
I threw up a single page that was totally vanilla (meaning no design for you newbs) with a few links to my fave places and a few pics. If it even had ten links going to it, I'd have been shocked. I had a personal blog that I'd been blogging in for several years and had no interest to have a second one. When I became a moderator at webmasterworld (which I knew was happening a bit before it was officially announced) I was informed I'd have to list my site url in my profile.
At that point, I figured, why not launch a real site on the sugarrae.com domain (incidentally, a few months before, due to a shitty host, I lost my entire personal blog – shut up, I am now the *queen* of backups, lesson learned). So, in February of 06, the doorway came down and the new Sugarrae blog went up. Within two weeks, it was flooded with inbound links in part to friends linking to me from their own sites and in part from an interview I did with YPN. I had also redirected my then/now defunct personal blog to Sugarrae, along with a few vanity domain names (i.e. raehoffman.com).
When it launched, it was on Expression Engine, which I later found out was a complete nightmare in regards to SEO, so I then moved it to wordpress. I also put up a magazine style homepage and moved the blog to the root. This past summer, I decided to get rid of the magazine style homepage and move the blog back to the root with the main blog on the homepage again.
The point of giving you all that history was to partially let you in on how Sugarrae evolved. I posted some stats on the blog's first birthday and rest assured that the numbers/increases are much higher now. The other part is to let you know that I changed url structures… a *lot* over the almost two years the blog has been open as well as had several *legitimate* redirects to the Sugarrae site.
It was a few months in that I noticed the blog didn't “act” right in the Google serps. I wasn't ranking for things I should have been ranking for (as in very peculiar queries that had exact matches on my blog – not mainstream terms). Something was wrong. So, way back when, I went, privately, to some of the biggest names in this industry because it was driving me nuts and I figured I was too “close” to see the problem.
The responses I got ranged from “you need more content”, to “you need more trust”, to “you need more time”, to “maybe the personal blog redirect is getting you caught in some filter” to “you've recently changed url structures, give Google time to sort it out”. Deep down, I knew none of these were the issue.
But, I now have more content, I (should) have trust, I've waited, all redirects, including the vanity ones, were removed a long while back (I didn't want to leave anything untried) and Google has had more than enough time since my last url structure change in the summer to “figure things out”. And the site still doesn't act right.
So now I am going to state the obvious – what I've known for a long time – and give you the evidence that supports this conclusion. Additionally, since it's undeserved, I am going to officially put my face on the poster for the often referred to “collateral damage” (because I am going to assume that this is in no way a “personal thing” between me and Google and that it's a result of getting caught in some filter).
The Sugarrae website is penalized, devalued – whatever the hell you want to call it. Google has given it the smackdown.
It's photoshopped people
Before I present my exhibits of evidence, let me first explain that the Sugarrae website currently has over 20K backlinks. And if you look through them, you see that I certainly am not, on a sane planet, lacking authority or trust in regards to those backlinks.
I do not now, nor have I ever sold links (though it would be easy to confuse that and make the wrong decision) – and since my toolbar PR is fine and has not been destroyed as some other people's have – I don't think that is the culprit anyway. This penalty, devaluation, whatever, has been going on long before the idiocy of trying to identify unidentifiable paid links.
I certainly don't buy links for this site, spam in any form for this site or anything else that would be considered shady. The redirects originally put towards this site were domains I owned that ranked for “rae” – it isn't like I changed topics (and remember, those redirects have been removed for over six months anyway). The *only* questionable thing this site does is that it has text under the top navbar graphics and the logo that are word for word what is said on the image itself. Not a single alteration. Now, according to the former comments re: hidden text via css, supposedly, according to Matt:
Iâ€™m not saying that mouseovers or DHTML text or have-a-logo-but-also-have-text is spam; I answered that last one at a conference when I said â€œimagine how it would look to a visitor, a competitor, or someone checking out a spam report. If you show your companyâ€™s name and itâ€™s Expo Markers instead of an Expo Markers logo, you should be fine. If the text you decide to show is â€˜Expo Markers cheap online discount buy online Expo Markers sale â€¦â€™ then I would be more cautious, because that can look bad.â€
So, assuming Google isn't instituting insane filters that are grabbing text underneath my images that contain no “keywords” and penalizing me for them with no discretion or intelligence (“me see hidden word, me penalize site”), then that shouldn't be the problem either. And assuming Google knows its head from its ass in regards to redirects, the changes in url structure shouldn't be an issue either. And I'd hope that Google can tell the asshole on the .net of my domain (get in line to yell at me for not registering it) is not the original.
So now you might be saying to yourself:
Ok, Rae, we get it. Your site is an authority in the niche, it has trust, it doesn't do anything it's not supposed to… what, you whining because you're not ranking for “seo blog”?
No. when I say I don't rank for things I should, I mean the hell out of it. Here we go:
— link experts sugarrae – all five sites ranking above me are linking to me… additionally, by default, having sugarrae – a made up word – in the query and not having my site return as the number one result is insane.
— monkey balls seo – now, even if you buy that themadhat (love you Aaron) should rank above me for that term in spite of being a younger, less linked to site (he did post it first after a twitter message about it), there are two scraper sites (who scraped *my* site, and not Aaron's) ranking above me and two video game sites that don't have the phrase appear as exact match on the page.
— google face of evil – I could buy the sites appearing above me, until you hit the scraper site (again, scraping *my* site) right before mine.
— shameless stuntie mybloglog – Note that stuntdubl's site appears first with a scraper site underneath. Now repeat the search with omitted results included. Oh, there's my site! Look, it is being considered a duplicate of stuntdubl's page, even though the *less than one sentence* of duplication that appears on his page is a trackback from my site complete with a link back to me.
As most of you know, I've been linking to the troublemaking whore with whore in the anchor text for almost a year now. I'm guessing that you finally understand why we've been doing it now. So get this…
— outing people for taking naps during the day whore – I don't know how much more obscure you can get. Granted, this one is without quotes (be patient). Now, let's ignore that fact that *I* am number 8 for this serp, even with exact query match. The whore himself doesn't rank in the top 1000 for the query, even with an exact phrase match linking to him.
— “outing people for taking naps during the day whore” – Now I've done the search with quotes (hey, at least now I'm number one) but take notice of the fact that I am the *only* result for this query.
Now we'll stop, because if you don't already get the point of the above two slides, you might need a little bit of knowledge to do so. When you do a search for rae hoffman you'll notice that MFE Interactive is at the top of the second page. If you look at the cache, you'll notice that the following phrase appears: “These terms only appear in links pointing to this page: rae hoffman”.
You should get now why only my site appearing for the outing phrase in quotes is a bit troubling since the outing whore has a direct link to his page. For whatever reason, Google is not counting my link to his page. Whether or not that is true of *all* of my links I have no way of knowing.
Ladies and gentlemen of the blogsphere… after the evidence presented here, one is only left to conclude one of three things:
1. Google doesn't know its head from its ass
2. Someone at Google dislikes me on a personal level (again, we're not going there, as I don't believe this to be the cause, even though it must be listed as an option)
3. I'm penalized or devalued – collateral damage from some filter or whatever you want to call their “spam detection efforts”
Either way, it's annoying as hell. I run a good site, that follows “the rules” (gag me, but it does), I get a lot of links, a lot of traffic – and I've been slapped by Google for no reason. I'm pissed off – not only because I don't deserve whatever the hell is going on – but also because I'm smart enough to understand what's happening when a lot of other people (meaning non search marketers) aren't.
I'm guessing it is number three with a dash (ok, maybe a spoonful) of number one thrown in. Either way, we always hear about “potential collateral damage” from Google's (sometimes warranted, sometimes insanely overzealous) crusades, but rarely see the faces of those who become it. The problem I have now is how to fix a penalty I didn't do anything to receive and therefore have nothing to “fix”.